Tribute to Shakespeare Opens Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2015-16 Season

The Grand Rapids Symphony will open its 86th season with “Romeo & Juliet,” reveling in music inspired by Shakespeare’s immortal plays. Grand Rapids Symphony Music Advisor Larry Rachleff will lead two performances of “Romeo & Juliet” on Friday, September 18 and Saturday, September 19, 8:00 p.m. at DeVos Performance Hall. “Romeo & Juliet” is part of the Richard and Helen DeVos Classical Series and is supported by Spectrum Health and the Edith I. Blodgett Guest Artist Fund. 

To begin the concert, music of comic energy and laughter by Hector Berlioz introduces an opera based on The Bard’s wittiest comic characters, Beatrice and Benedict. Like many 19th century composers, Berlioz had a lifelong fascination with Shakespeare and based several of his compositions on his dramatic works. Written late in life and based on “Much Ado About Nothing,” the premiere of Berlioz’s final opera “Béatrice et Bénédict” was a great success. Berlioz wrote his own libretto, paring down a good deal of Shakespeare’s story. “I have taken only one subject from the play—the part in which Beatrice and Benedict, who detest each other, are mutually persuaded of each other’s love, whereby they are inspired with true passion,” wrote Berlioz to his son. 

While Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto has no direct connection with Shakespeare, its headlong energy recalls the great soliloquies delivered by Shakespearean heroes and heroines. Like many avant-garde composers of the Romantic era, Saint-Saëns liked to toy with classical form. In his first Cello Concerto, he took the traditional three movements and collapsed it into a single-movement work. Swedish cellist Jakob Koranyi joins the Grand Rapids Symphony orchestra to perform the piece. 

Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev created one of his greatest works re-envisioning “Romeo and Juliet” as a ballet. The vivid and evocative music recreates the story of the doomed, star-crossed lovers, and paints the characters and action of the drama. The fierce rivalry between the two families can be heard in “Montagues and Capulets”; the innocence and charm of the female protagonist in “Young Juliet.” 

“Romeo & Juliet” is part of a special three-concert package “Shakespeare and Symphony.” Three concerts during the Grand Rapids Symphony’s 2015-16 season feature Shakespeare-inspired musical works, and adult tickets to all can be purchased for $99 ($15 for students). Concerts included in the package are “Romeo & Juliet,” “The Romantic Concert” on November 6 at St. Cecilia Music Center, and “Dvorák’s Seventh” on January 29 and 30 at DeVos Performance Hall. 

Shakespeare fans are invited to the Symphony’s “Listening to Literature” event on Monday, September 14, 7:30 p.m. through 9:00 p.m. at the Downtown Grand Rapids, Inc. office. This collaboration with the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company will offer scene study workshops, bringing “Romeo and Juliet” to life. It is $50 to attend and includes a concert ticket to “Romeo & Juliet” on September 19. To register, visit


Tickets start at $18 and are available at the Symphony office, weekdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 300 Ottawa NW, Suite 100, (located across from the Calder Plaza), or by calling 616.454.9451 x 4. (Phone orders will be charged a $2 per ticket service fee, with a $12 maximum.) Tickets are available by phone in the evening and on Saturday by calling 616.885.1241. Tickets are available at the DeVos Place Box Office, weekdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., or on the day of the concert beginning two hours prior to the performance. Tickets may also be purchased through Ticketmaster, 800.982.2787, online at or in person at Ticketmaster outlets: select D&W Fresh Markets, Family Fare Stores and Walmart. Tickets purchased at these locations will include a Ticketmaster service fee. Full-time students of any age are able to purchase tickets for only $5 on the night of the concert by enrolling in the Symphony’s Student Passport program. This is a MySymphony360 eligible concert.

About the Grand Rapids Symphony 

The Grand Rapids Symphony was officially organized in 1930 and is nationally recognized for the quality of its concerts and educational programs. Led by Music Advisor Larry Rachleff, Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt and Associate Conductor John Varineau, nine concert series are presented, featuring a wide range of music and performance styles. More than 400 performances are presented each year, touching the lives of some 170,000. Nearly half of those who benefit are students, senior citizens and people with disabilities reached through extensive education and community service programs. The Symphony’s Affiliated Organizations include the Grand Rapids Bach Festival, Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and Classical Orchestra, and Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Choruses. The Symphony also provides the orchestra for Opera Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Ballet Company. To learn more about the Grand Rapids Symphony please visit

This activity is supported in part by an award from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.